Monday, December 19, 2005

North African Chic in Paris

In the Travel section in the Sunday New York Times, an article by Seth Sherwood describes the multiple ways that North African fashion, cuisine, and music are so-o-o hip today in Paris. Inappropriately titled, "In the Heart of Paris, an African Beat" (inappropriate because Moroccans, Algerians, and Tunisians most often tend to think of themselves as part of the Maghreb, the "West" of the Arab-Islamic world), it elaborates on the ubiquity of North African culture in the French capital. Seth describes many of the hippest restaurants, clubs, and boutiques, and his descriptions of the varieties of couscous and tajine dishes is especially enticing. Two of the most noteworthy restaurants are 404 and Andy Wahloo, owned by Hakim and Mourad Mazouz, who own Momo and Sketch in London.

I've been to both Sketch and Momo in London. (An old friend of mine who is a friend of Mourad got us in.) Sketch is unbelievably posh and gorgeous, but not Middle Eastern themed. Momo by contrast is ultra-chic Middle Eastern, with a hookah bar/café upstairs and a restaurant downstairs that features very fine world music. (And Mourad has compiled 3 volumes of fabulous Middle Eastern music, Arabesque [vols. 1-3].)

Andy Wahloo, in Paris, is a wonderful pun on "Andy Warhol" which means, "I have nothing" in Maghrebi Arabic.

I'm pleased that Maghrebi culture has become so mainstream in France, and have been involved over the past 15 years in documenting the movement of Arabic music in France from the margins to the center of French pop culture. I'm glad as well that entrepreneurs like Mourad Mazouz, and not just white French citizens, have been key figures in these moves.

But while the "Beurgoisie" has moved into the center of French pop culture, the unemployed and working-class youths of the banlieues have been mostly left behind, as the recent riots show dramatically showed. The fact that Maghrebi culture attracts French bohos (and boho US tourists, if this article does its work) doesn't guarantee jobs, or respect, to Franco-Maghrebi residents of the cité. (Nor does the fact that rap music dominates US pop culture mean that poor blacks will be treated with any consideration when a disaster like Katrina strikes.)

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